Saint Nicholas (born Greek), had a reputation for gift giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Clause, whose modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas and his feast day is December 6.
Its so interesting to look at how different countries celebrate Saint Nicholas, especially in Europe since that is where he is from and where the traditions began. Saint Nicholas wears the red clothing of a priest – the mozetta (robe) and miter, which is the head covering. The miter “has passed through many variations. At first it was a round cap fitting the head closely with a brow band and ribbons falling down on the back of the neck” (source). Sound familiar? If you look at the modern day depiction of Santa Clause he wears a red suit and a red hat with a white brow band and a long tail. As Saint Nicholas was associated with gift giving and riding a horse, it makes sense that Santa Clause would give gifts and perhaps the horse was stretched by some stories, etc. to become reindeer. The gifts in the shoes (Europe) are gifts left in stockings (North America). My question is how did Santa Clause come to give gifts on the night of the 24th of December rather than the 6th? Was it a difference of religion or culture or a bit of both?
Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, thieves, children, and students in various countries in the Balkans, Eastern Europe and parts of Western Europe. In Belgium, Saint Nicholas day is celebrated by all. At my workplace, we are welcomed in the morning with baskets of oranges, biscuits and chocolates. I think the tradition goes that children recieve little gifts in thier shoes such as fruits, chocolates and other sweets.
I always wondered as a kid why we sometimes got the Santa Clause on the 6th day in the chocolate advent calendars my mom used to get us. I was always nervous on the 6th to see if it would the “ruined” by getting the Santa chocolate on the 6th of December rather than the 24th.
What makes the day even more special for me personally is that my name is Nicole, so technically it could be seen by some that I am named after Saint Nicholas, which is a popular tradition in parts of Eastern Europe. For example, many people in Romania have a name that is the same or a variation of a Saint and on the particular Saint’s Day, the person’s “Name Day” is celebrated. December 6th also happens to be my birthday. So I have 3 reasons to celebrate!
It seems like such a nice holiday for many Europeans. Its like a pre-Christmas celebration and now that I know the full meaning of the day, my birthday seems much more special.
Do you celebrate Saint Nicholas Day? If so, what are your traditions?